(Cross)Dressing for Civil War: Rhetorical Traditions that Disrupt Gender Norms

Patty Wilde

In their published personal accounts, Sarah Emma Edmonds and Loreta Janeta Velazquez recount for their many readers their experiences dressing as men and fighting in the American Civil War. Although their accounts are exciting and thrilling, they are more than sensational stories. In their accounts, they describe their desires to crossdress, their transformations, and the satisfaction they felt in performing roles previously denied to them. By describing a spectrum of sex and gender possibilities, they participate in a transgender rhetorical tradition that, as Jonathan Alexander explains, works to “create cracks in the monolithic structure of gender identity” (“Transgender Rhetorics” 53). And by going public with their narratives, Edmonds and Velazquez actively challenge prescribed expressions of gender.

In this Google Map, I retrace the steps of Edmonds and Velazquez through the Civil War and beyond to illustrate how their memoirs participate in a rhetorical tradition that disrupts normative notions of gender. It is possible to see how they subverted expected gender roles and identities through mapping their geographical journeys, as their crossdressing experiences are very much tied to the places in they inhabit. To review their expeditions, click on the grey menu box in the top left corner of the Google Map. This menu offers users a suggested route to follow. Start with the introduction (the yellow star pin) in Fort Sumter, SC, where the Civil War began, and then work your way through a discussion of Edmonds’ (the blue pins) and Velazquez’s (the red pins) physical, social, and geographical crossings. The map, like the Civil War, concludes in Appomattox, VA (the green star pin).

Works Cited

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